Nestled in the mountains of far north Fujian Province lies Wuyi Shan, the birthplace of Oolong tea and our first tea destination outside Shanghai on this years tea journey.
Famed for its striking mountain cliffs, beautiful waterfalls, and meandering rivers, Wuyi Shan is certainly a magnificent natural wonder, but its true majesty lies in the tea that has called travelers to this place for centuries – Da Hong Pao.
We arrived at the Wuyi Shan train station, bleary-eyed, at 5am on a drizzly Thursday morning. Most of the many teashops that line the streets of this growing city were yet to open, and as the clouds slowly parted to make way for the blazingly hot Fujian sun, we headed towards the protected scenic area, the main draw for most visitors, to find a hotel. Surprisingly enough, we found ourselves at a Super 8.
Da Hong Pao, the tea that gave birth to the category of Oolong tea and in turn made Wuyi Shan famous, can be traced back to a handful of bushes that still sit high on a cliff in the center of Wuyi Shan’s 70 square km protected scenic area. This is a pilgrimage of sorts for tea lovers the world over, so we immediately ascended the rocky hills to pay our respects to these ancient bushes.
The scenery here is straight out of an old Chinese landscape painting. Lush vegetation and craggy, mist covered peaks go on for miles. Countless species of birds, bugs, snakes, and other creatures large and small call it home. Some families still own plots of land and cultivate tea among the rocks and in the hollows of cliff faces. In fact, the tea from this specific area is known as Yan Cha, or rock tea, because the rocky, mineral rich soil imparts a distinct flavor only found in these teas.
A chance encounter in Shanghai and a little luck from the tea gods, put us in touch with Marvin and his brother Wang, whose family has been cultivating tea within the Wuyi Shan scenic area for generations. We met with Marvin and Wang to taste tea and visit their gardens. Monoculture agriculture, which is so present in many other places, is not the case here. The farmers have small plots scattered around the mountain-side, interspersed with other native plants and limited in size by the dramatic landscape.
With several non-contiguous plots only a few hundred yards from the original Da Hong Pao bushes, Marvin and Wang produce some of the most amazing tea in the world using organic growing methods and traditional production techniques. Harvests only take place once every year (in the spring), and each batch is carefully hand plucked, withered, rolled, and then dried. The final step in making these teas is a slow roasting in traditional bamboo baskets over a natural charcoal fire.
These teas are truly world class. A new crop of tea is produced every year but the age-old spirit of Wuyi Mountain still comes through in every cup! We can’t wait to bring these amazing teas home to share with friends, so get your taste buds ready!
Next stop: Anxi, home of Tie Guan Yin…